Inside the metaverse encounters that allow people to share about death, grief, and pain
The pandemic has created particularly fertile ground for complex pain. The funeral was meant to kickstart the process of integrating the loss into our new reality, but for two years, “we couldn’t be together to hold each other and cry and sob,” she said. Lister thinks going through the pandemic has really made people leave avoid discussing death.
To explain the promise of grieving in VR, Lister paraphrases wisdom from Mr. Rogers: “What is talkable is manageable.” When the avatars participate in the Death Q&A, “what those people are doing is having an experience in which they are putting what is deepest, most painful in them,” says Lister, turning the torment. crude chore into something doable.
Social isolation makes loss more likely to become complex grief. But mourning invites estrangement. Daily conversation can feel unbearable cliché as your loss becomes so much more painful, but “after a while, people don’t want to hear it anymore because they can’t fix it.” That’s for you,” Nickel said. Death Q&A gives the mic to that pain and gives it to an eager audience; Lister says having that community is great for promoting a healthy process of grieving.
She says that a VR-enabled group may be more suitable for you than a traditional one because “there is protection.” “You can control what is seen of you.” Sharing through an avatar, with people you’ll never have to see again, creates a digital veil that amazingly frees people to be honest and vulnerable.
Indeed, this echoes how Matte describes her VR experience. “I will come and say some pretty bad things in a realistic voice, and usually [Nickel] would say—’Well, you know, stay with this for a while,’” Matte said, noting how Ted worries about being a burden. “There are days when I really don’t know how I don’t walk around the house and scream all day… so I say to myself: Let’s regroup.” Broadcasting her devastation in VR helped her focus on making his death as comfortable as possible.
By 2021, Jeremy Nickel feels his nonprofit has reached a point of change. EvolVR says 40,000 people have attended its events since 2017. At that point, “we can keep this sweet little thing serving a few hundred people,” he envisions—or “We can make a play and try to share this with a lot more.”
He chose to create spaces where people could practice this new way of mourning and dealing with large numbers.
In February 2022, he sold EvolVR to TRIPP, a Los Angeles-based company, for an undisclosed amount. TRIPP, which raised more than $11 million in funding from backers including Amazon last year, has been offering VR guided meditations since 2017; the sessions asked people to do things like visualize their breath as stardust, going in and out at the ideal pace for meditation.